26 April 2019 Volume :7 Issue :26

French Speaker Learns English on Road to PhD

French Speaker Learns English on Road to PhD
Dr Joseph Kapuku Bwapwa, who recently graduated with a PhD in Civil Engineering from UKZN, with family members.

Dr Jospeh Kapuku Bwapwa arrived in South Africa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2004 with French as his first language and only a smattering of English.

Today, Bwapwa has a PhD in Civil Engineering for research he completed into the production of jet fuel from microalgae biomass cultivated in saline domestic wastewater. He was supervised by Professor Cristina Trois and Professor Akash Anandraj.

‘Jet fuel was produced from a marine species cultivated in saline domestic wastewater,’ explained Trois. ‘To stimulate the increase of lipids content for more than 80%, a physiological modification was achieved by starving microalgae cells in ultra-pure water.’

The algae-based jet fuel produced from Bwapwa’s research complied with the American Society for Testing and Materials standards relevant for aviation fuels. Six publications in high impact factor journals including a book chapter were also generated.

‘I had to learn English the hard way,’ said Bwapwa. ‘I used to go to the library in Pinetown to study the language.’

In 2006 Bwapwa was hired as a quality control and wastewater plant supervisor for a Westmead-based company dealing with the water-based products in the textile industry. ‘During this time I had to improve my English to a professional level, which was not easy,’ said Bwapwa. ‘It came at the price of long hours of study and of making an effort to weaken my French accent.’ 

A bursary from the South African Water Research Commission enabled Bwapwa to register for an MSc in Chemical Engineering at UKZN in 2008, which he completed in 2010 under the supervision of Professor Chris Buckley and Dr Kitty Foxon of UKZN’s Pollution Research Group. Tutoring Mathematics to Engineering students worked wonders for Bwapwa’s English during this period. 

Bwapwa then got a job at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban and enrolled for his PhD at UKZN in 2012.

‘Teaching and publishing were required as a lecturer and I also had to work for long hours and attend many international conferences while doing my PhD,’ said Bwapwa. ‘Nevertheless, I was able to publish five articles in high impact factor journals and I wrote a book chapter as part of my doctorate.’

Bwapwa said his journey strengthened him. ‘I have learned that if you can dream it you achieve it. Many obstacles were in my path but I had to persevere. Being in a foreign land and facing these challenges motivated me and contributed to my resilience.’

Words: Sally Frost 


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